While cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, almost 20 percent of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked a single cigarette. There are many other causes of lung cancer, including radon exposure, secondhand smoke, and inhaled asbestos.
As recently as 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) added air pollution to the list. While air pollution was suspected as a cause since the 1940s, there was little scientific evidence prior to the release of the WHO report. Combing thousands of scientific research papers, researchers with the World Health Organization determined air pollution, especially PM2.5 particulates, caused both lung and bladder cancer.
Air Pollution and Lung Cancer
While scientific researches continue to study the effects of air pollution on lung health, they have begun to isolate the specific components of air pollution that contribute to the development of lung cancer. Soot particles and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the main culprits.
When PAHs are inhaled, these tiny particles can directly damage lung cell DNA. These ultrafine particles are easily inhaled and become deeply lodged in lung tissue. The result is long-term inflammation and increased cell division. Scientists hypothesize this increases the spread of damaged cells.
Other Pollutants and Lung Cancer
In addition to soot particles and PAHs, other airborne contaminants can also contribute to an increased risk of lung cancer.
An invisible, odorless, radioactive gas, radon often trickle up through cracks in floors and foundations and into indoor air. In addition to causing lung cancer, radon has also been linked to an increased risk of leukemia.
Asbestos. Once commonly used in fire-resistant and insulating materials, asbestos is responsible for approximately 4 percent of all lung cancer deaths. When inhaled, microscopic asbestos fibers become trapped in the lungs causing inflammation and many other health issues, including lung cancer.
Tobacco Smoke. Most lung cancer cases are caused by tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke contains a cocktail of over 4,000 different chemicals, 60 of which are known to cause cancer. The main carcinogens in tobacco smoke are nitrosamines and PAHs.
Airborne Chemicals. Many airborne substances can contribute to cancer development. Exposure to formaldehyde and chromium are particularly dangerous
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Although genetics and family history largely determine your risk of developing lung cancer, there are also many environmental factors. You can’t control your genes, but you can control your exposure to certain environmental hazards, at least to an extent.
Tobacco is the most common cause of lung cancer and causes exponentially more deaths than any other cause. To reduce your risk of lung cancer, don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit. And don’t allow others to smoke in your home.
Test your home for radon. Call a professional testing service or pick up a DIY test from your local hardware store.
Reduce your carbon footprint. You can take steps to reduce your individual contribution to the worldwide epidemic of air pollution. Walk instead of driving whenever possible, consume less energy, try reusable grocery bags, and reduce your consumption of wasteful products. For more ways to reduce your carbon footprint, visit COTAP.org.
Clean up your indoor air. By using a high-performance air purifier like the Austin Air HealthMate Plus or HealthMate Plus Junior, you can significantly reduce airborne particles and dangerous chemicals from the air inside your home.
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